2019 Yamaha R3: First Ride Review

For 2019 Yamaha has updated its smallest super sport entry, the YZF R3. With over 20k R3s sold in the US since it’s debut back in 2015, the plucky little R3 has been Yamaha’s sales leader.

Not wanting to mess too much with a winning recipe, Yamaha decided to leave well enough alone with the 321cc parallel twin power plant. With its 180 degree crank, DOHCs sporting four valves per cylinder and forged pistons, the R3 has a proven motor worthy of the tuning fork badge.

Photo: Brian J. Nelson

On my ride with Yamaha, this was especially evident at highway speeds. While other small displacement sport machines routinely get a nasty buzz when humming along at free speeds, the R3 was smooth as silk due to its 5th and 6th gear overdrives. Make no mistake though, 1st through 4th still pulled me to my heart’s content through the damp SoCal foothills. This was especially impressive due to my 6’2” frame and 190 lbs.

Speaking of frames, the chassis on the R3 also remains widely the same as last year with its steel trellis set up, 50:50 weight distribution and just over 30 and a half inch seat height.

Photo: Brian J. Nelson

What separates the 2019 R3 from last year’s variant is most notably its suspension. While the most obvious change is a 37mm non-adjustable upside down KYB fork that has a 20% increase in spring rate, the rear shock also received an 11% boost to its spring rate with 10mm of preload adjustability available.

These updates, while not monumental, have produced a motorcycle that punches far above its weight. Being able to handle potholes and emergency braking situations with composure has always been an issue for larger riders on smaller bikes, but the R3 held its own navigating the rutted out interstates just as well as it did railing through the canyons.

But the R3s updated suspension isn’t the only thing helping the 2019’s new and improved ride. The Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300 tires are a massive improvement over the previous bi-ply shoes that were strapped to the 2018. With a 110-70-17 in the front and 140-70-17 in the rear, tire warm up and feel is much better than before, but I still wondered how much better a set of Dunlop Q4s could make the R3 perform.

Up at the controls, things have changed as well. The handlebars are now mounted 22mm lower than before, giving a more direct and clip-on-esque feel. The compromise between comfort and handling saved my wrists on the 150+ mile ride, but also allowed for a full tuck position that felt solid as a rock. When you’re in full tuck you’ll also get a prime view of the revamped aluminum triple clamp and LCD that make the R3 feel far more premium than its $5k price tag would have you believe.

Also pulling hard on the aesthetic duties are a revamped front fairing and tank. In addition to the claimed 7% decrease in drag, the new fairing gets LED headlights and a front cowl stolen straight from Rossi’s MotoGP bike. The tank also gets some design cues from the R1-M, but more importantly it gets flattened 20mm and widened, just at the top, by 31.4 mm. The wider top end of the tank is the perfect lip to drive a knee into.

Photo: Brian J. Nelson

When you start to round all these changes up, you come out with a bike that has taken some serious steps in maturity. With full on commuter capabilities in check with a 3.7 gallon fuel tank getting an estimated 56 mpg, you can go all day in comfort with little to complain about—even if you’re sporting a 34” inseam.

Some things I would have liked to have seen done differently are the turn signals, mirrors and front brake rotors. The turn signals are Yamaha’s standby incandescent jobbers that you’ve likely seen for the last decade or so. When they updated to LED headlights I would have loved to have seen these bouncy Christmas ornaments go the way of the Dodo, but sadly they remain. The mirrors are actually incredibly stable at speed but provide little visibility, which is more or less expected with a super sport.

Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Up front, braking duties are handled by a 298mm rotor with a two piston caliper. I would have loved to have seen a 320mm up front, but I guess you can’t have everything.

But the places where the R3 is slightly lacking are the best possible places to come up short. Turn signals are a cheap fix, mirrors have almost limitless aftermarket options, and with a set of steel brake lines and some sintered pads, I’m sure you’d have all the bite you’d ever need.

Yamaha is offering its fair share of accessories as well, with branded offerings like a Yoshimura carbon slip-on, crash protection sliders that are a huge aesthetic improvement over anything else available, an endurance double bubble windscreen, and a tail tidy and mirror block offs for track days. These new pieces are in addition to the 29 existing accessories that Yamaha was already making for the previous R3. Needless to say, Yamaha is doing everything they can to give R3 buyers all the attention normally reserved for bigger bikes.

Yamaha’s increased focus on the R3 isn’t by accident. There is a crazy amount of competition nowadays, with smaller displacement bikes garnering more attention than ever before as their capabilities keep on growing. With bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 400, KTM RC390 and Honda CBR300r hitting similar price points, manufacturers have to keep outdoing each other—which is perfect for the consumer. The tech keeps getting better, especially with the R3 and it’s revised suspension and ABS option, but the price stays the same. Talk about a win-win.

When I was asked to join in on the launch of the 2019 R3 I wasn’t expecting to be very impressed. While I’d heard great things about the previous model, it always struck me as a budget oriented machine that was meant to bring young riders into racing. After my short time with the 2019, I can vouch that if that was the case, it certainly isn’t anymore. The redesigned R3 has all the polish of a flagship model, albeit with a few caveats. What Yamaha has done, is use their decades of motorcycle building experience to cut back in key areas to get the price point consumers need. All the while, refining the R3 to a motorcycle with commuting manners that still retains a track focus, making it worthy of the supersport title—and the small bore bike to beat.

Photo: Brian J. Nelson

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